Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

by

Dai Sijie

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The Little Seamstress Character Analysis

The Little Seamstress is the "princess of Phoenix mountain" and the teenage daughter of the tailor. She's beautiful and has a number of suitors on the mountain. Though she's a "simple mountain girl" and nearly illiterate, she tells Luo that she loves talking with people from the city, which shows her curiosity. Over the course of her romantic relationship with Luo, he reads her novels by Balzac, which she adores. The Little Seamstress finds out that she's pregnant with Luo's child while Luo is away from the mountain, and the narrator arranges for her to have an illegal abortion in Yong Jing. In the months after her abortion, the Little Seamstress uses what she learns from Balzac's novels to transform herself into a stylish city girl: she cuts her hair into a bob, adopts a Chengdu accent, and makes herself a bra. She meticulously and secretly arranges to leave the mountain for the city, and cites a line from one of Balzac's novels when Luo tries to convince her to stay. Both Luo and the narrator see her departure as the ultimate betrayal, and the narrator, in particular, feels as though she selfishly abused his generosity and loyalty to her.

The Little Seamstress Quotes in Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

The Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress quotes below are all either spoken by The Little Seamstress or refer to The Little Seamstress. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Anchor Books edition of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress published in 2002.
Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

She's not civilized, at least not enough for me!

Related Characters: Luo (speaker), The Narrator, The Little Seamstress
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

The change he had undergone since receiving his mother's letter was truly remarkable. A few days before it would have been unthinkable for him to snap at us like this. I hadn't suspected that a tiny glimmer of hope for the future could transform someone so utterly.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Luo, The Little Seamstress, Four-Eyes, The Miller
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

He shut the suitcase again and, resting one hand on the lid like a Christian taking a solemn oath, he declared: "With these books I shall transform the Little Seamstress. She'll never be a simple mountain girl again."

Related Characters: Luo (speaker), The Narrator, The Little Seamstress, Four-Eyes
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 6 Quotes

Before, I had no idea that you could take on the role of a completely different person, actually become that person—a rich lady, for example—and still be your own self.

Related Characters: The Little Seamstress (speaker), The Narrator, Luo
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 7 Quotes

I couldn't resist taking slight liberties, adding bits here and there by way of a personal touch to make the story more interesting to her. When I felt good old Balzac was running out of steam I would contribute little inventions of my own, or even insert whole scenes from another novel.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Little Seamstress
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

It was not long before I took it upon myself, out of a sense of courtesy and respect for womanhood that I had learned from Balzac, to relieve the Little Seamstress of her laundering duties...

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Little Seamstress
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

Although illiterate, my tormenters, or rather the Little Seamstress's swarm of disappointed suitors, were flabbergasted by the sight of this recondite object: a book.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Little Seamstress
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 8 Quotes

I felt as if it were my child that she was carrying, as if it had been me and not Luo making love to her under the majestic gingko tree and in the limpid water of the secret pool. I was deeply moved; she was my soul mate and I was ready to spend the rest of my life taking care of her, content even to die a bachelor if that would help.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Luo, The Little Seamstress
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

There was nowhere for them to go, for there was no conceivable place where a Romeo and his pregnant Juliet might elude the long arm of the law, nor indeed where they might live the life of Robinson Crusoe attended by a secret agent turned Man Friday.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Luo, The Little Seamstress
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

It was insane, but the bourgeois intellectuals upon which the Communists had inflicted so much hardship were no less morally strict than their persecutors.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Little Seamstress, The Gynecologist
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 9 Quotes

I wondered what was making me chase Luo across this treacherous mountain slope? Was it friendship? Was it affection for his girlfriend? Or was I merely an onlooker anxious not to miss the ending of a drama?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Luo, The Little Seamstress
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

Although I was fully aware of my role as spectator, I felt just as betrayed as Luo, not by her decision to leave the mountain, but by the fact that she had not thought to tell me about it. I felt as if all the complicity we had shared in procuring the abortion had been wiped from her consciousness, as if I had never meant more to her than a friend of a friend, which was what I would remain forever.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Luo, The Little Seamstress
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress LitChart as a printable PDF.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress PDF

The Little Seamstress Character Timeline in Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

The timeline below shows where the character The Little Seamstress appears in Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 3
Storytelling, Censorship, and Power Theme Icon
The narrator says that the "princess of Phoenix mountain," the Little Seamstress , wears canvas shoes, has a long ponytail tied with a red ribbon, and has... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Storytelling, Censorship, and Power Theme Icon
Friendship and Loyalty Theme Icon
Several weeks later, the narrator and Luo travel to the tailor's village to visit the Little Seamstress and ask her to lengthen Luo's pants. Luo tells her about running into her father,... (full context)
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Friendship and Loyalty Theme Icon
The narrator explains that the Little Seamstress 's beauty made him and Luo want to stay and watch her work. Noticing a... (full context)
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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Luo tells the Little Seamstress that the two of them have something in common, and he asks if she'd like... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
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...a letter addressed to Luo. The narrator opens it and reads the note from the Little Seamstress . She explains that the headman of her village has agreed to host Luo and... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 5
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Storytelling, Censorship, and Power Theme Icon
The narrator and Luo have seen three films in Yong Jing, and for the Little Seamstress 's village, they decide to tell The Little Flower Seller. It's a drama from North... (full context)
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Friendship and Loyalty Theme Icon
When they reach the Little Seamstress 's house, Luo is dizzy with fever. The Little Seamstress cancels Luo and the narrator's... (full context)
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Luo falls asleep in the evening. The Little Seamstress asks the narrator if he believes in "things you can't explain naturally." He replies that... (full context)
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...to kill demons. After a while, the sorceresses start to yawn and fall asleep. The Little Seamstress asks the narrator to tell the witches a story to keep them awake. He begins... (full context)
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The oil lamps flicker and die, but the narrator sees the Little Seamstress kiss Luo before they go out completely. The narrator finishes the story of the flower... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2
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...morning, still hasn't returned. The narrator says that Luo has certainly gone to see the Little Seamstress and relate Balzac's tale to her. Thinking of this, the narrator suddenly feels jealous for... (full context)
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...handkerchief. He unfolds it slowly and the narrator realizes it's actually fabric torn from the Little Seamstress 's shirt. Inside are beautiful leaves stained with blood. Luo explains that they're ginkgo leaves... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Storytelling, Censorship, and Power Theme Icon
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...Luo laments that he never got the opportunity to read it out loud to the Little Seamstress . He maintains that doing so would've made her cultured and refined. (full context)
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Storytelling, Censorship, and Power Theme Icon
...narrator's sheepskin coat with the passage written on the inside and read it to the Little Seamstress . She reread the passage herself, sat still for a while, and finally put the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Friendship and Loyalty Theme Icon
The narrator wears a copy of Chairman Mao's jacket, made by the Little Seamstress , and a green army cap. Luo borrows an army uniform and poses as a... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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...clock. In August, the narrator and Luo are sent to see a film with the Little Seamstress . Yong Jing is showing The Little Flower Seller again, and the Little Seamstress is... (full context)
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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The Little Seamstress , Luo, and the narrator stay in Yong Jing's cheap hotel that night. The night... (full context)
Friendship and Loyalty Theme Icon
The next day, the Little Seamstress and Luo visit the cemetery at the bottom of the mountain while the narrator sits... (full context)
Friendship and Loyalty Theme Icon
The narrator makes his way to the graveyard to tell Luo and the Little Seamstress about meeting the poetess. They laugh when the narrator tells them he pretended to be... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Friendship and Loyalty Theme Icon
Over the next week, the Little Seamstress listens to her customers' gossip and learns that Four-Eyes' village is planning a grand event... (full context)
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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...mountain. Luo shuts the suitcase and says that he'll use the books to transform the Little Seamstress . (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
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...a hod with vegetables and a Balzac novel and sets off to read to the Little Seamstress . Upon his return that night, he tells the narrator that the storm caused a... (full context)
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The next day, the narrator decides to go with Luo to see the Little Seamstress . When the boys reach the dangerous part of the path, even the narrator is... (full context)
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...hesitantly cross the ridge. He feels unsure of how Luo's "adventure" reading Balzac to the Little Seamstress will turn out. (full context)
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...along a ridge that dropped off sharply on either side. The girl turned into the Little Seamstress and pranced along the path, while Luo struggled to follow her. The narrator looked away... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2
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...before they go to bed. The tailor asks for a story instead, saying that the Little Seamstress has been telling him about Luo and the narrator's wonderful stories. Luo insists that the... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 4
Storytelling, Censorship, and Power Theme Icon
...went to see what disturbed the birds and came upon the "interpreter" (Luo) and the Little Seamstress having sex in the deep part of the natural pool. He says he felt ashamed.... (full context)
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Luo and the Little Seamstress swam out of the water, and the Seamstress fashioned a loincloth of leaves. Luo lounged... (full context)
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Friendship and Loyalty Theme Icon
...narrator that it's lucky for Luo that it was he who saw Luo and the Little Seamstress , as the miller has never reported anyone to the Public Security Office. He insists... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 5
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Luo says that he taught the Little Seamstress how to swim properly, not like a peasant. She taught herself, however, how to dive.... (full context)
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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...narrator used to get into Four-Eyes' house, and several others. One afternoon, Luo read the Little Seamstress a chapter of Balzac's Lost Illusions. The Little Seamstress caught a tortoise, and Luo carved... (full context)
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
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The Little Seamstress dove into the pool and was gone for a long time. Luo became agitated and... (full context)
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Luo tells the narrator that today, he and the Little Seamstress lost the key ring in the pool. It was dangerous and he says he doesn't... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 6
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The Little Seamstress tells the narrator that the books Luo read to her always made her want to... (full context)
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The Little Seamstress explains that she enjoyed diving to get Luo's keys because she likes pleasing Luo. She... (full context)
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
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At the narrator's prodding, the Little Seamstress relates what happened on the last day she and Luo went to the pool. They... (full context)
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
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...it was time for the key ring game. Luo threw in his keys and the Little Seamstress dove after them and felt around the bottom of the pool. She touched a snake... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 7
Friendship and Loyalty Theme Icon
...grand time during Luo's month-long absence if Luo hadn't asked the narrator to guard the Little Seamstress . Luo explains that a number of young men on the mountain admire her, and... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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...narrator refers to himself as "the secret agent" and describes his daily walk to the Little Seamstress 's house. He mentions that the ravens still observe the narrow part of the path.... (full context)
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The narrator says that the Little Seamstress isn't aware she's being watched; she just thinks of the narrator as a "substitute reader."... (full context)
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...thanks to the "respect for womanhood" he'd learned from Balzac, he even starts doing the Little Seamstress 's laundry. He says that this "softened his temperament" and allowed him to intimately view... (full context)
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One afternoon, the narrator applies crushed balsam flowers to the Little Seamstress 's fingernails. She asks him where he learned this "girlish stuff," and he explains that... (full context)
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When the narrator leaves the Little Seamstress 's house that night, 15 young men jealously follow him along the path and taunt... (full context)
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...tortures him. The cripple slices off the narrator's ear, and the gang flees when the Little Seamstress bursts in. (full context)
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The narrator imagines that the Little Seamstress unties him and allows him to lick her fingers, the nails red from the balsam... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 8
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The next morning, the narrator and the Little Seamstress are in her kitchen cooking. She tells the narrator that she has a problem. The... (full context)
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The narrator explains to the reader that he forgot to ask the Little Seamstress if she wanted to be a teenage mother, although it wasn't even a valid question... (full context)
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
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The Little Seamstress and the narrator discuss how to procure an abortion that saves her and Luo from... (full context)
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
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...offers the gynecologist a novel by Balzac if he can perform the abortion for the Little Seamstress . The gynecologist doubts that the narrator has a book by Balzac. (full context)
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...and explains to the reader that he was crying for Fu Lei, not for the Little Seamstress 's predicament. (full context)
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The next Thursday, the narrator and the Little Seamstress return to Yong Jing, the Little Seamstress disguised as a 30-year-old woman. The narrator waits... (full context)
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The Little Seamstress insists on purchasing a kilo of tangerines to place on the preacher's grave to thank... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 9
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Addressing the reader, the narrator says that that's the story. Three months after the Little Seamstress 's abortion and Luo's return, Luo and the narrator sit outside their house with the... (full context)
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The narrator says that the Little Seamstress had left suddenly and dramatically earlier that day. He explains that he and Luo had... (full context)
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The narrator continues that the other two signs were the Mao-style jacket that the Little Seamstress had made for him to visit the miller the first time, which she'd altered into... (full context)
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
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...year, which was a national holiday, the narrator and Luo had gone to see the Little Seamstress . When they entered her house, they were shocked to see that she'd cut her... (full context)
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The narrator says that the true result of the Little Seamstress 's transformation hadn't occurred to Luo and himself at that point. He questions if they... (full context)
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The tailor says that the Little Seamstress left the mountain that morning—she'd gotten the documents to do so behind the tailor's back... (full context)
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Luo begins a headlong sprint down the mountainside after the Little Seamstress , and the narrator follows. As he runs he thinks about his nightmares where the... (full context)
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After two hours, the narrator sees the Little Seamstress sitting by the graveyard where the narrator had met the poetess months earlier. He stops... (full context)
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The narrator hears Luo and the Little Seamstress speaking softly. They sound agitated and the narrator hears Balzac's name, but can't hear much... (full context)